One reason why The Real News Network calls Baltimore home is because we know that the struggles that the people in this majority-minority city face (unequitable access to resources like education, clean air, and transportation, for example) are the struggles people face all over the globe. Today, we begin a weekly news roundup that we hope will help keep our friends and neighbors abreast of what’s going on in our city, but we also hope these stories will resonate with people united in the struggle everywhere.
In this installment of our weekly news roundup, which spans Jan. 1-8, local leaders react to the insurrection that happened just 45 minutes away in Washington. D.C.; why a move to end home detention fees might not go far enough; and a “spy plane” that has been flying in Baltimore (ostensibly to solve crime) is headed for St. Louis.
Local Leaders React to DC Chaos
Baltimore’s newly-elected Mayor Brandon Scott was one of many Baltimore leaders who responded to Wednesday, Jan. 6’s attempted insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Calling it a “coup attempt,” the city’s new mayor noted that Baltimore would assist the District’s Mayor Muriel Bowser as needed and also condemned the hordes of Trumpists storming the Capitol.
“What we’re seeing on Capitol Hill today is an attack on our democracy. Donald Trump’s policies, actions and inactions have terrorized Black and Brown people across this country over the last four years. He has consistently stoked his base to act in hate. This behavior is not surprising to me, nor should it be for anyone. But let us not be desensitized,” Scott said via press release. “This is what white supremacy looks like.”
On Twitter, Baltimore City Councilmembers Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey spoke out against past Republican actions that lead to the attack. Dorsey condemned Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, saying “Larry Hogan voted for his dad and a dead person instead of standing opposed to the ringleader of today’s acts of treason. Spare me the antics, coward.”
Councilpersons and Eric Costello and Odette Ramos joined Maryland State Senator Bill Ferguson‘s call for President Donald Trump’s removal. Kweisi Mfume, who represents Maryland in the House of Representatives, is the cosponsoring legislation to be introduced next week that would not only start the impeachment process but bar Trump from holding any other elected office. As of press time, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby had not made a statement.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Democratic Party is calling for Andy Harris, who also represents Maryland in the House, to resign. “Make no mistake, the Republican members of Congress who instigated this violence—including Representative Harris—are complicit in this attempted insurrection. They have blood on their hands,” they said in a statement.
Harris reportedly almost came to blows with Democrats on the House floor the night of the incident.
Baltimore Mayor Scott also announced Friday, Jan. 8, that due to a rise in hospitalizations of people suffering from from COVID-19, the city will remain under modified Phase 1 guidelines. In December, as COVID-19 infection rates went up, Scott put the restrictions back in place. On Friday, he also said that he’d be giving weekly updates about the city’s reopening status, so that business owners have time to prepare for possible changes. The restrictions meant indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants was halted, the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings was limited to 10, and indoor recreational spaces like nightclubs were closed, among other things. The move angered some business owners, who argued that they needed to keep their doors open to support themselves and their employees. However, Scott maintained that, given the rate of infection and number of available hospital beds, the move was necessary.
“The health and safety of Baltimoreans is my top priority,” he said at the time. “I will not waver or hesitate to make decisions that save lives in Baltimore.”
On Monday, Scott, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa, and Baltimore City Police Chief Michael Harrison said that in December, the Baltimore City Health Department received 2,600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and city officials have already begun administering them to healthcare workers and first responders. Go here for more information and COVID-19 statistics for Baltimore City.
Plastic Bag Ban Postponed
This week, Scott also signed an executive order postponing a ban on plastic bags in Baltimore City that was due to start Jan. 13.
“As we continue to face the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, it’s clear that we need more time to get the implementation of this ban right for our businesses and residents,” Scott said in an announcement released Jan. 6. “Over the next six months, my administration will work hand-in-hand with our agencies to strengthen outreach to our retailers so they fully understand the impacts of this law and step up our efforts to provide reusable bags to Baltimoreans, all while we navigate this unprecedented pandemic.”
A release issued by the mayor’s office included words of support by Comptroller Bill Henry, who sponsored the legislation when he was serving as a member of City Council, and City Council President Nick Mosby.
“Reducing plastic pollution is still a priority for our City and our Bay—however, in this time of emergency, it is vital we take whatever actions necessary to respond to the public health crisis,” Henry said.
Once enacted, the legislation means city residents must use paper bags, compostable bags, and thicker plastic bags to carry goods purchased at local businesses (bags used to contain fish, meat, fish, other edibles are exempt). That applies to supermarkets, convenience stores, corner stores, restaurants, gas stations, and the like. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont have all banned single-use plastic bags as a way of reducing the toll they take on the environment.
For local environmental activists, the delay on the plastic bag ban is troubling, as it arrives just a few months after Scott backtracked on a campaign promise to close down the BRESCO incinerator. In October, Scott argued that it was necessary to continue the contract with BRESCO to have better “leverage” over the amount of emissions released.
Baltimore County Ends Home Detention Fees
Baltimore County is no longer charging pre-trial and sentenced people home-monitoring fees, effective the first of this month. County Executive Johnny Olszewski said that he was looking to lighten the burden on people serving in-home detention, especially given the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has put on everyone.
“Individuals on home detention, most of whom are individuals not convicted and awaiting adjudication of non-violent crime charges, should not have to face additional financial burdens,” Olszewski said.
Home detention has been seen as an alternative to incarceration. However, The Real News Network’s Eddie Conway said that the move to end fees fixes only a small part of a larger, systemic problem.
“The main problem I have with the in-home detention is not the fees and the costs, but the fact that the prison-industrial complex is expanding into the community, the poor communities, black communities, communities of color, each and every household that allows in-home monitoring loses their civil rights in terms of search and seizure warrants in terms of, of how you can be treated in your own house. Correctional officers have the right to come kick down your door,” Conway said.
According to the press release, there are 99 people in the county’s home detention program. Baltimore City Public Defender Todd Oppenheim noted on Twitter that what happened in the county could not even happen in the city if there were political will to change it.
“Meanwhile, folks charged in the City seeking home detention have NO PUBLIC OPTION,” Oppenheim tweeted. “There are 2 companies monopolizing the market much like a bail system. Even w/the County’s fees, City fees are higher- & judges are reluctant to order it. Equal protection?”
‘Spy Plane’ Program in Baltimore, Headed to St. Louis
Throughout 2016, a small plane equipped with a number of cameras flew over Baltimore City recording Baltimoreans’ movements during daylight hours, all in an attempt to gather evidence to help solve homicides. This secret agreement between the Baltimore Police Department and Persistent Surveillance Systems, the company that developed the technology, to fly the plane and record residents was finally exposed by Bloomberg Businessweek and has been part of an ongoing debate about privacy, expanding police powers, and the growing surveillance state.
As The Real News reported, the technology was not as effective in capturing crimes as was promised, although it did capture a troubling police shooting. In 2020, the plane returned (in spite of an ACLU lawsuit against it) with a bit more promised transparency, but ultimately little evidence it is all that effective. But now “the spy plane,” as Baltimoreans took to calling it, has been approved to fly in St. Louis, Missouri—and again, the dealings were in secret. As Unicorn Riot reported, Persistent Surveillance Systems “negotiated a plan in secret with a member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen with hopes of flying multiple spy planes simultaneously over the city’s metro area in 2021.” Baltimore, on the other hand, has come out against the plane, with Mayor Scott opposing it from the beginning, and even the Baltimore Police (who misrepresented how the plane was used) expressing concern about how the plane’s data was stored.
With additional reporting from Brandon Soderberg.